Falling temperatures, the first frosts and less sunshine are the first signs that winter is approaching.... and I won't be telling you anything by saying that this time of year is not really conducive to gardening. However, there are techniques you can implement now, in order to improve the quality of your soil for next year and also to enjoy some harvests during this cold period. Let's take a look!
Harvesting and protecting vegetables
Start by making room in the garden by harvesting the last vegetables, especially the summer varieties. These crops will hardly produce anything at this time unless you are lucky enough to enjoy a Mediterranean climate. If you are in the North or in a colder region, don't expect to see the many green tomatoes that still populate your plants ripen after mid-October. Similarly, zucchini will probably not have time to mature even if a small fruit starts to form at the base of a beautiful yellow female flower.
If you have started growing autumn vegetables (turnips, carrots, spinach, leeks, etc.) and winter vegetables (lettuce, leeks, Brussels sprouts, kale, head cabbage, etc.), you can protect them by placing a winter cover when temperatures drop. This will increase the heat thanks to the greenhouse effect and thus encourage faster growth of your plants. In addition, the less resistant vegetables will be protected from light frosts thanks to the tarpaulin which will maintain a higher soil temperature.
Clean up the garden
Fall is also a good time to clean up your garden. For my part, I pull up all the summer vegetable plants at the beginning of October (except in the greenhouse): powdery mildew is coming on the courgette plants, the tomatoes are no longer red, the aubergines are turning brown... You can also pick up the yellowed leaves that start to pile up on your lawn and trim the hedges to make RCW with a good shredder.
STOP!!! Do not take these plants to the local waste disposal center. All this organic waste should be kept, for example in a compost bin or by leaving it to decompose on the growing beds that you will not use this winter. They will serve as food for the soil and will improve the structure of your soil and its richness in nutrients for next year.
Prepare the soil for next year!
Soil amendment is a process of improving the fertility of the soil by modifying its biology, chemistry or structure. It is best done in the fall. Depending on the crops in your vegetable garden, you can use compost, manure, green manures and the many plants from your garden to cover the soil and regenerate it.
If you choose to cover your soil or plant green manures, don't hesitate to use a grelinette to aerate the soil beforehand. This is an ecological technique that is very beneficial to the crops since it encourages the proliferation of microorganisms in the first 15 centimetres. On the other hand, turning over the soil makes these precious allies disappear, so useful to your vegetable garden.
2. Bring in compost
Have you installed a compost bin in your vegetable garden? Great! Start by collecting compost that has matured. It is usually located at the bottom of the bin and is very dark in colour. Then simply fill a wheelbarrow and take it to your growing bed. With a rake, spread enough compost on the soil to encourage the development of microorganisms necessary for the fertility of the soil. Compost does not have to be buried in the soil, contrary to many beliefs!
3. Bring in manure
Are you lucky enough to live in the countryside? Good news, some equestrian centres make horse manure available free of charge, so don't hesitate to ask them. Be careful: it is too rich to use it immediately in the vegetable garden. We advise you to let it "mature" for at least a year before spreading it on a future growing area.
Please note that some riding schools administer medicines and antibiotics to their horses. Even if the active ingredient will decompose with time, some prefer not to use manure from treated animals. It's up to you... As I don't have a trailer, I buy bags of manure pellets (mix of horse, cattle and chicken manure) and place them on a crop area that I found less productive this year.
4a. Mulching the vegetable garden
Mulching is a technique that consists of covering the soil with mulch. These mulches can be composed of organic or mineral materials. To protect the soil of your vegetable garden from frost, driving rain, leaching, and winter erosion, you can choose between sawdust, wood shavings, vegetable crop residues, dead leaves, brown cardboard, straw, hedge trimmings transformed into RCW and grass clippings. The thickness of your mulch must be at least 7 cm and it is best to vary your contributions between "brown" and "green" waste in order to encourage composting in place. This article will give you many tips on mulching.
4b. Sow green manure!
Instead of mulching the vegetable garden, you can also choose to sow a green manure on the freed plots before mid-October. This is a plant sown with the aim of nourishing and protecting the soil. Widely used in the agricultural world, this technique is devilishly effective even in your small vegetable garden. I have been testing it for three years now and I have really noticed the benefits over the years.
The choice of green manures is wide. Most often, legumes are grown at the end of the summer to feed the soil. They fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and once cut, they release the minerals they contain. These minerals are then absorbed by micro-organisms, which increases the biological activity of the soil. The roots of these leguminous plants decompact the soil in depth during their growth and consequently, they participate in its structuring and protection for the fall.
For my part, I try to alternate green manures every year. I sometimes choose mustard (see photo), phacelia or a vetch + rye mix which has the advantage of being able to be sown later. Rather than buying seeds in a garden centre or on the web, I go directly to the local farmer who offers these seeds at a much more democratic price.
I hope this article has helped you learn more about preparing your vegetable garden for next year! Do you have any questions or suggestions? Don't hesitate to post them in the comments! =)